Cracking Up

We woke to find the canal frozen. The good news was that it was a perfectly still day and the sun was out. We all dressed warmly to tackle the Tardebigge flight. We had discussed ways of managing to be efficient and frequently swapping  driving to avoid getting cold and possible rotating of lunches so as not to waste time. 

I headed off to the first lock. It had an injured gate arm, replaced by plywood – much shorter than normal but fortunately the gate was not too heavy to manage without the additional leverage. Bryn joined me to open the other side.


Ready to start the flight and hoping our arms are strong enough

A man spoke to me asking if we intended doing the flight today. He was a CRT volunteer but was on a day off . He said he would offer to help except that he didn’t have his life jacket. Certainly today was a day to take care around the lock and not risk slipping. He said we should manage it in 3 and a half hours with two people working the locks and advised we take a look at the Church at Tardebigge. He went on his way, wishing us well.

We had a steady routine going and apart from some leaky locks, the gates were ready to open in nearly all of them. There was often a robin near the lock and I saw a wren as well as a robin hopping around at one of them. Sometimes Bartmaeus approaching a lock would be breaking through ice on the way and the sheets of ice cracking as the water below dropped, when you opened the paddles, was fun to watch. Mostly the path was clear but puddles were iced over. At one there was some lying snow.


Bryn and I at a slightly snowy lock. Bartimaeus coming up.

Even when driving, with no wind, lots of top layers and thermals, I found I still kept warm. Shane wanted to drive later in order to get a cup of coffee. Later, as I was really too hot, I swapped back and got a cold drink and passed some juice to Bryn…thirsty work locking and walking uphill!

The locks are close together until the second last one when there is a short gap. With only one to go, decided to stop for lunch as there were rings to tie to. We were pleased to have lunch together and that it was only 2 and a half hours from starting, so we congratulated ourselves on a swift passage.

To our surprise the last lock was set against us. It would have been so much harder work if they had all been set against us. There was a sign at the side with a QR code offering certificates for completing the longest flight in England! I hadn’t seen that at the bottom so not sure if you get it for going downhill. Bryn scanned the code but it seemed was an email address rather than a certificate…we are not worried about a certificate, but pleased to have done it and I am really glad we had Bryn’s help.

Next job was finding the water point. We found it but it was not on the towpath side so I walked up to the road and round to join Shane while Bryn was dealing with finishing up the last lock. The instructions are to leave it empty (even more odd then that it was full when we reached it) so he was re-setting it. I saw some sheep that looked like they were an unusual breed so once we were tied up and the hose attached, and rubbish dealt with, I went to see them.

Wooly warmth on a winter’s day

To my surprise , when I arrived at the gate, the whole flock ran over bleating. They were a miniature breed. Apologies I have nothing for scale. I have a soft spot for sheep and all things woolly.

Cute, multi coloured sheep at Tardebigge

We headed into the Tardebigge tunnel. Bryn and I headed to the front. it is a a large straight tunnel , still interesting with the rock layers visible as it was not lined with bricks. There was still some seeping mineral deposits.

Tardebigge tunnel
Minerals washing down in the tunnel

After coming out we were still sitting at the front when a kingfisher flew past me fast and low at eye level, giving me a fantastic but fleeting view. Shortly after there was another brick lined tunnel which opened to a russet carpet of beech leaves. Bryn was remarking on just how pretty it was.

Emerging from Shortwood Tunnel

Beautiful as the leaves were they caused  great difficulty in progressing. Shane decided that he needed to look in the weed hatch. Nothing for it but to bare his arms, just as a little snow began to fall. He found leaves and nothing else.

Not winter wear

Even after the clearing operation it took us quite a few attempts to get going again.There were some grinding and clicking noises and there were a lot of sticks. Eventually we got our speed up and into clearer water. We could see more snow ahead and have moored up, with a few sticks making mooring a little less straightforward, but we got settled before the snow fell in earnest.